Part 2: Dealing with a Specific Text
I usually print out the sheet(s) containing the next Sunday’s text on the previous Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. I use these sheets for my reading, meditation and note taking. As I read the text over and over I begin to see key words and concepts in the text. These are usually helpful in determining the main point of the passage under consideration. I will underline, circle or box in any such key terms. If there is more than one theme in a given text, I will mark each related word in a distinct way. Circling one set of key words, underlining, and/or boxing in others. I will also draw lines on this sheet connecting certain ideas which I believe were connected in the author’s mind as he wrote. Another benefit of using this sheet is the ability to write notes such as the meaning of an important word, or later an observation gleaned from a commentary.
What role does prayer play in the preparation of an expository sermon? Prayer should both precede and permeate your study time. Whenever I open God’s Word I almost always pray, “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from your law” (Ps 119:18). But prayer is not just something I do to get started, it is a vital part of the ongoing communication between God and me during my sermon preparation. God is speaking to me through His Word, I am speaking back to Him in prayer. During the course of a day of study, I ask God for wisdom to understand difficult texts, thank God for letting me see the meaning of a text, praise God for what has been revealed about Him and His gracious purposes in the text, and confess my sins that have been exposed by the text. All of these spontaneous exclamations are types of the kind of prayerful spirit which permeates my study of God’s Word.
Hopefully, by prayerfully working hard (praying and working hard are not mutually exclusive) on the text, I will have a good idea of what the main point and major divisions of the text is. A distinction must be made between the exegetical and homiletical outline. The exegetical outline is essential for it divides the text into its logical components. The homiletical outline is the outline that is used in the sermon itself. These outlines may or may not be the same. I will say more about this in the next post.
One of my goals from the earliest point in my preparation is to see how the text unfolds into its component parts. The process of continual reading, meditation and prayer is the means to discovering the seams in the text. At this point, I am like a man shopping wood and the text is the log of wood. Sometimes the log splits the first time that the man swings the axe, but it usually takes repeated blows before the log splits. Sometimes, the log is so hard that it is struck all week to no avail until it finally opens up late on Saturday evening. A couple of times in my experience the text never split and I was forced to roll the whole log into the sanctuary! This is less than ideal, but for the preacher there is an unmovable deadline each Sunday and one must go to the pulpit with what you have.
In the next post, I will explain how I come up with my preaching outline. Future posts will include: why, how and when I consult the commentaries, writing the manuscript, and preaching the sermon. Stay tuned . . .